How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?

Dec 26, 2019 | Cover Letters

A title graphic featuring a blank clipboard with a formal document, overlaid with the text "How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?" and accompanied by Let's Eat, Grandma's yellow pencil logo in the top left corner.
How long should a cover letter be? While some general guidelines apply, it actually depends on a few factors. Read on to find out the ideal cover letter length for your unique situation. By: Daniel Lorenzo | Marketing Manager at Let’s Eat, Grandma
Stay sharp out there, job seekers. Asking for advice on your job applications can be a rollercoaster ride, as there aren’t many simple answers. A simple question like “how long should a cover letter be?” can create a bona fide rumble between professionals, with opinions flying like punches. If you’ve asked this question, you’ve probably heard answers ranging from one full page to barely one full paragraph.

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This isn’t because everyone’s out to deceive you. You’ve only heard various answers because there actually are a few different options for your ideal cover letter length.

You need to consider a few factors to decide how long your cover letter should be. If nothing else, it has to be short, but that can mean a few different things.

Here’s our guide to determining your ideal cover letter length:

How Should A Cover Letter Be?

Some Preliminary Guidelines

Let’s establish some good boundaries first. Your ideal cover letter length can vary, but only if it’s within some important guidelines.

The only cardinal sin here is writing a cover letter longer than a page. You don’t need to write more than a page. If you do, it won’t get read. Boom. End of story.

Aim for ½ to ¾ of a page with simple formatting. You don’t need to put a blanket word count or paragraph limit on your cover letter, but this brief length should be your target. Set your margins to 1 inch, your simple font to 12 pt, and your line spacing to 1 or 1.5, then start editing more seriously if you’re over ¾.

Your paragraphs should be short. Think like a journalist here – you need to convey vital information as quickly and easily as possible. Improve your readability by going for just 3-4 short paragraphs, no longer than 6-7 lines each.

Consider how much heading info you actually need. You’ve probably seen cover formatting with extensive contact info for both you and the hiring manager, like this:

A screen shot of a hypothetical cover letter filled with extensive contact information, one of the factors to discern when deciding how long a cover letter should be.
This is a bit of a hot take, but we believe that long headings just waste space, especially if you’re applying online.

Headings like this are admittedly formal-looking, so be sure to check if they’re called for in the job description.

If not, get your contact info into one simple line in the header and just write this:

A screen shot of a hypothetical cover letter with minimal contact information, one of the factors to discern when deciding how long a cover letter should be.

(And yes, find the actual name of the hiring manager!)

The Rule for Ideal Cover Letter Length

Beyond these ground rules, we follow something known as the Miniskirt Rule to determine how long a cover letter a should be:

“Make it long enough to cover everything important, but short enough to keep it interesting.”

Your cover has to be short, but it shouldn’t be so bare that it doesn’t add value. It’s an important resume supplement that shows why you’re a good fit, with further detail on your biggest accomplishments and professional philosophy.

However, just like your resume, it can’t be so long that it bores a hiring manager. Nothing should be repeated within your letter or simply restated from your resume.

The truth is that recruiters and hiring managers only skim cover letters, no matter how long they are. (We know – we heard so straight from a few recruiters!)

They’re not reading every word you write, just scanning for the information they want to see. As such, you have to include vital info without burying it in long paragraphs.

Specific Factors to Consider

But how can you tell what’s vital from what should be cut? Consider these factors when editing to determine how long your cover letter should be:

What Stage in Your Career Are You?

It stands to reason that a CEO’s cover letter would be at least a bit longer than a college graduate’s. Hiring managers are likely to consider senior-level applications in more depth, and entry-level applicants simply don’t have enough experience to elaborate on.

Fill your cover letter with specific stories relevant to the job description, but don’t wax poetic if you only have a few years of relevant experience.

Also, use your cover to explain any unique considerations that you couldn’t address in the resume.

If you’re worried about a gap in your professional history, a change to a different industry, or discrimination triggers you can’t hide, it’s okay (and actually recommended!) to take a bit of space on the cover letter to address these.

What Are the Job and Company Like?

Similarly, your ideal cover letter length can depend on the job and company that you’re applying to.

All cover letters should include information on how you fit the organization’s mission and culture. However, you might want to spend a few more words on this if you’re applying to a mission-driven nonprofit versus, say, a corporate finance firm.

Likewise, a classroom teacher will want to include a bit more information on their passion for education than an accountant would for the same school.

What Relevant Stories Do You Have?

Ever tried to explain something in an email, and soon realized you just need to schedule a meeting to talk in-person? The same thing can happen when trying to squeeze details into your resume.

If you have an important accomplishment that requires more than a bullet’s worth of detail, don’t be afraid to take some room to describe it in your cover letter.

Don’t stress over finding the One, True ideal cover letter length – focus instead on writing a cover letter that shines! Make sure your letter covers everything it needs to for your situation, doesn’t repeat anything, and stays within one short page, and you’ll be flying.

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